Monday, January 14, 2008

2008 Books Two and Three

The second book I finished reading in 2008 was The Subtle Knife, by Philip Pullman. I'd read it once before, a couple of years ago, but I felt like I'd rushed through it too quickly to give the story and the writing the level of attention they deserved. After a second reading I realize that I missed certain elements the first time around, but that I still don't feel any deep affection for this series.

Don't get me wrong--I like these books quite a lot. The writing is excellent, the storytelling superb, and the details imaginative. Still, too many of the characters feel like puppets--and, even worse, they acknowledge that they're puppets; they seem to know that they're only doing certain things because the author needs them to. Dr. Malone gives Lyra an inexplicable little expository speech in chapter Four, saying even as she does so, "Why am I telling you this? I shouldn't.... I'm a little crazy this afternoon." But she goes right on telling anyway, because that's what the plot requires. At the end of the book, in chapter Fifteen, Will is struggling with a witch and we are informed that "because she was a witch she wouldn't have been afraid of a boy, normally. But she was afraid of Will. This young wounded figure held more force and danger than she'd ever met in a human before, and she quailed." She wouldn't have been afraid of him usually--but she recognized him as the Protagonist, and was therefore terrified. Hm.

On the other hand, I'm always having trouble understanding people's motivations even in real life. So this could very well be a problem with me and not the text.

The third book I finished in 2008 was The Ladies of Grace Adieu and other stories. I loved Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (once I finally stopped being so intimidated by its length and popularity that I could undertake reading it at all), and this was a pleasant collection of stories set mostly in the same world, with one story that's set in a sort of hybrid of that world and the world of Neil Gaiman's Stardust. Susanna Clarke's deft use of a writing style straight out of the early 1800's is just as delightful to read in these stories as in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and it's fun to get additional tidbits of the sort that were sprinkled in footnotes and allusions throughout the novel. All in all, The Ladies of Grace Adieu added nicely to my picture of that parallel England. And it was satisfying to get a story about the Raven King in there, as well.


The Subtle Knife, by Philip Pullman. Published 1997, 288 pages. Fiction.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu, by Susanna Clarke. Published 2006, 235 pages. Fiction.